THE DIVIDED (AND DISSECTED) HEART

I AM still reading Rachel Power’s The Divided Heart and you’ll note I continue to avoid the real subhead – Motherhood. Thanks Rachel. Your ...

I AM still reading Rachel Power’s The Divided Heart and you’ll note I continue to avoid the real subhead – Motherhood. Thanks Rachel. Your book’s title has become code for something else entirely - or not, as the case may be.

I enjoyed reading the comments made here about parenting. Some said the decision to be a parent was not one they were ready to make. Some shared a brief insight into their own experiences and in so many of your blogs I read daily the highs and lows of family life.

I read, just after my post, an article about families with both adopted and birth children. The honest assessment of parents interviewed was that they’d lay down their life for their birth children but that, though they loved their adopted children, they felt differently about them. In mainstream media little is written about step-parenting and this article was the nearest approximation of how I felt as a step-parent.

Some years ago I did search online for step-parenting forums but backed out of discussion groups as quickly as I’d been eager to enter them. They were vile. Step-parents airing vitriol against the children they’d knowingly taken into their lives and against the other adults in the child’s life – usually their partner’s ex. Surely, when people embark on a relationship with a parent they understand they’re entering a relationship with several people. I’m not saying it’s an easy thing but if these forums were a snapshot of step-parents it’s no wonder they have such a bad rap. Since then I’ve never ventured to find whether the general discourse has changed and the fact I am asked for honest advice about blended families suggests it probably hasn’t.

For a little light reading over New Year’s I picked Joanne Harris’ The Lollipop Shoes from the library shelves. It’s the sequel to Chocolat. Harris’ Chocolat is a favourite of mine, along with Blackberry Wine.

One paragraph, early in The Lollipop Shoes, stood out.

Show me a mother, and I’ll show you a liar. We tell them how the world should be: that there are no such things as monsters or ghosts; that if you do good, then people will do good to you; that Mother will always be there to protect you. Of course we never call them lies – we mean so well, it’s all for the best – but that’s what they are, nevertheless.

Vianne Rocher’s views on what must be done to protect her children resonated with me in the same way the article on parenting adopted children did. The biological parent, and please argue the point if you see it differently, can turn a blind eye. The outsider often sees the truth much more clearly, without the emotional shades of grey.

I am quick to look among the Girl Guides in my unit and notice shifts in dynamics, squabbles that may have taken place over the week, a word, a look, a clinging to one child – or adult. I am quick to see potential for conflict and manipulate the dynamic to avoid, or at best dilute it.

In a family environment, that’s not so easy. I am a part of the dynamic and to avoid conflict I often remain mute – a position that can be thrown back at me as an evasion of responsibility. To weigh in, I am reminded my views are second rate and interfering – especially when they fail to lend support to a favoured argument. If a child doesn’t like what my outsider’s eye sees, it can be turned against me and used to deflect unwanted attention on the child. It’s learned behaviour. Children are cunning. When they learned to walk and talk and tie their shoelaces we found them adorable. When they learn to navigate and manipulate the volatile dynamics of blended families their techniques are just as imaginative and, really, to be applauded, if it weren’t for the fact you end up the testing ground for their arsenal.

I know there’s room to write more on this subject, to speak up for those who feel they, like me, have nothing of value to say. I haven’t the energy right now and my particular family dynamic makes me, quite possibly, the wrong person to do so. There are too many taboos to contend with. For now it’s enough to have written about it here.

Tomorrow … life in general, and a big decision. I'm not sure it’s going to prove all that exciting, but stay tuned.

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5 comments

  1. Good on you for being so honest Kate! I almost bought The Divided Heart yesterday but then hesitated because, as you know, I'm not a mother and don't intend to be.
    I love it when I hear true, gut-wrenching honesty about parenting like you've shared with us. It balances up all the fairy floss that I mostly see written about parenting.

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  2. I enjoy reading your blog because you're so open and honest about your life and you open up a forum for discussion. I can only imagine how difficult the path of a step-parent can sometimes be - you become a parent by default, not by desire or design.

    Can you direct me to the article you mentioned about parents' attitudes to their birth children vs adopted children? As the parent of an adopted child it deeply concerns me that the misconception that adopted children are loved less than bio children is perpetuated. I'm sure a journalist wanting to take that angle would be able to find some parents who felt that way, just as any journalist can find both sides to any story if they try hard enough.

    It angers me that people generally think adoption is second best. It often is a second choice way to form a family but in no way is it second best. I can't imagine loving anyone - including a biological child - any more than I love my daughter. It took us years of often desperate waiting, having to expose every area of our lives to a social worker, police background checks and fingerprinting, interviews, statements from our accountant, and personal references just to be "approved" to become parents. Our child was longed for and absolutely wanted as much, if not more, than most bio children and I know for sure that my husband and I would lay down our lives for her in a heartbeat. The same could not be said for any number of bio parents. There are so many cases of children being mistreated by their biological parents - people who get pregnant by choice or by accident who have never had to prove to anyone that they can be a good parent. And they're not.

    I know you mentioned adoption in one small paragraph of your long post, and the views expressed in the article you mentioned aren't necessarily yours, but I feel so passionately about this (obviously) and I hate that this false generalisation about the love of adoptive parents is being perpetuated... with the obvious impact it will have on our children.

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  3. So beautifully and passionately said Lisa. I'm not a parent of adopted children and I did go, "oh wow ouch" when I read the article. I have tried to find it online. It was in an edition of Essential, published Thursdays in the Sydney Morning Herald, and was in December. I will try and track it down. I was looking online for it because I was worried I might have been incorrectly representing the article and that on a second read I'd have found I only honed in on some of the sentiments that resonated with me. I'll look in our newspaper bins for a copy. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on parenting. Adopted parenting is of interest because I think my second eldest - for a whole range of reasons - will adopt in her lifetime. It's something we've spoken about before and I think she speaks about it with me more than others, she is only 19, because she recognises my parenting is left of field. Again, thank you for sharing. I'll be interested to see what others write. Already I've had a couple of comments on other posts and emails suggesting people need time to articulate their ideas.

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  4. thanks Katie. we subscribe to the Herald, but I must have missed it. i'll see if we still have any old 'essentials' laying around. did you find it online?

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  5. I love that you are brave enough to lay your thoughts down for us all to read - please keep doing so, I certainly like to read them. Your position is a tough one but so is being a birth mother - that quote from Lollipop Shoes is so true.

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